I take my time packing my things away. It doesn't feel quite right, my room being stripped bare while the rest of the house stays the same. But this is what I want. I want to leave. I want to make something of my life, I guess, and this is just the process.
My mom leaves tomorrow, but I leave in three days. She'll drive with most of my stuff, and I'll fly with the rest. The drive is a long drive- about eighteen hours. But she's the travelling kind of girl. I know that she loves to drive through the mountains, with the windows down and R.E.M. or Otis Redding playing. Sometimes, she'll put on the comedy channel, and I'll listen with her. But I never drive with her. I never want to, and to be honest, I think she prefers that trip alone. It allows her to go on her own time.
It's not fun packing right now. Usually, I enjoy packing- I don't know why, or what's so different about this trip. Maybe it's having to pack away everything. I don't know what I want to stay until I leave. It feels like everything is important right now, even if it isn't.
It's hard, putting it all away in boxes. My record player, my records. I can't bring any of them on the plane. Besides, what would be the point of it? It's not like I can listen to it on the plane.
Lukas and Conrad put the boxes in the back of Mom's car, and I watch from the front porch. I clutch my Jolly Rancher pillow to my chest, feeling a sense of nostalgia. The worst thing is watching them take away my cello. I begged and begged my parents to let me take on the airplane with me. Going two days without my cello wouldn't be a big deal, said my dad. It's weird how I didn't start playing cello until I was ten. Five years. I went ten years without needing a cello, but now I can't imagine spending a day without it. I always play cello, every day. And even when I'm not, it's comforting just to look at it. So now, without any of my books or my records or my cello, how am I going to spend my time? Watching TV, playing on the computer? At least I can still go to the park. Or that's what I thought, until Lukas hooked my bike to the bike rack. I refuse to walk to the park in this kind of heat.
It might be strange to be so attached to, simply put, a big block of wood and wire. But they say that once you name something, you become attached. Conrad said it would be dumb to name my cello Black Beauty just because it's black. But I wasn't going to name it Aretha Franklin or anything, like he suggested. I think he's jealous of Mom's attention when it comes to my cello, since he's always been great at most things. It's his passion to make my mother proud, and it embitters him so much when I can do something he can't. But Mom always likes me to play for her. She loves to hear my cello. I guess it makes her proud that she is the mother of the only musician in the family that doesn't smoke crack.
Pretty soon, I'll be packed away in a plane, ready to go to someplace I don't know. Oregon and California are so different. I haven't ever seen snow once in my life, and apparently it snows all the time in Oregon! It's going to be strange, riding on that plane and knowing that I'll be staying in my destination for good. I don't go on airplanes a lot. I don't like them. There are too many screaming babies, flight attendants with heavy perfume, brothers who won't stop knocking into you when they move.
Everyone is going away, it feels like. Really, it's only me and Lukas and Conrad. I leave tomorrow. Conrad leaves on Friday. Lukas leaves in a couple weeks. When you say it, thirty-five days sounds like a long time. But I know that it isn't. It really isn't. In thirty-five days, he'll be gone. Who knows how long he'll be gone? Months? Years? Thirty-five days to months is a short, short time.
At night, I have a hard time sleeping. My nightlights are gone (I have to have some kind of light when I sleep), my clothes are gone, and most importantly, my records. I always listen to at least two songs before I go to bed. It's always something by Joni Mitchell or Simon and Garfunkel. But I have none of these things. You wouldn't think that sleeping without your clothes or books would be that big of a deal. I don't know, but it feels so lonely in my room. My books and records are like teddy bears and safety blankets for me. It always feels nice to have some kind of friend in my room, whether it be Holden Caulfield or Charlie, David Gilmour or Ray Davies. But tonight, I'm alone.
I'm not so much nervous as I am curious. Since I've reached this point in my life where I really don't have anything to lose, I'm telling the cosmos to bring it on. Who knows? Maybe this is absolutely the right thing to do. Not only will I be away from people like Carys Goodman and Will Andreou, but I'll be with people who might like me: people who are into the arts- passionate about music and dance and theater and other things. Mom said it's going to be great, and for once, I really believe her. I really, really do.
It's funny- I've never felt so hopeful in my life. That has to mean something good.
My parents are the kind that pick those obnoxiously early/late plane times, because they're usually cheaper. It's not like we're exactly scraping by, so I don't see the point. My flight is at eight at night, and takes two hours. So I won't hardly get to see Mom, or the house, or anything.
Lukas and Conrad take me to the airport, since Dad has to work late (of course). It is very quiet, but Conrad lets me sit in the passenger seat, which he almost never does. I even get pick the songs on the radio, which I never get to do. Even Lukas, whose music taste is similar to mine, says that my constant changing radio station gives him a whiplash, so he usually has Conrad sit in front.
The lights of the city brighten the night. It's weird, seeing my city pass by. The last time I'll be living here, at least for a while. I press my forehead against the glance, feeling dizzy with remorse and excitement. Already, I missed my city, my skyline, my lights in the distance. The mountains in the distance. I missed it all, and yet I could see it all. I missed my park and my Old Lady and the beach a bike-ride away. It wouldn't be there for me anymore. It would be miles and miles away, and this was the choice I was making- to leave this all. These things I'd had all my life, all these things I could count on. I won't open my window curtains and see the city.
Sometimes, I want to stay more than I really should. Why should I stay? There's nothing for me here. I have no friends. My dad isn't there for me like he should be. How could I want to stay?
But sometimes, I do. Sometimes I think that besides the no-friends and awkward-father-situation, there are things here for me: comfort, safety, familiarity. I don't know what Oregon holds for me. It's definitely not safety.
We park and check my bags in, go through security- the whole drill. Still, we're quiet. I don't know why. I wish we could talk. I have lots to talk about. Like how I'm excited and nervous for my new school and scared that Lukas is going into the army and mad that Dad isn't here and happy how Lukas and Conrad are here. But my brothers are quiet, so I don't push anything. Even though I feel like I have the right to want to talk- since it's going to be a long time before we're all back together again.
Conrad flops down next to me. He waves a bag of gummy worms at me. "Want one?"
I sigh, pressing my lips together, and take one. It's one of those cheap kinds of gummy worms, so it's not very good. It's actually sort of dry. But I swallow it down and start chewing a piece of gum.
Time passes slowly. I keep checking the time- it only seems to change by two minute intervals. Lukas buys me a National Geographic, which seems to end too fast. I work on a Sudoku puzzle from the book that Mom got me, but I get bored easily. We got here too early, I think. There's not much to do. Conrad and Lukas talk to each other, laughing about something stupid that I don't get. I roll my eyes and reopen my National Geographic, pretending to be absolutely riveted and not at all bothered that they're talking to each other and not to me.
The already-read magazine bores me, so I put it in my bag and lean back in my chair. I look around at other people. I see a young girl sleeping on her mother's lap, and I miss my mom. I see a middle-aged man obviously talking to his child on the phone, and I miss my dad. I see two girls who are probably in college, talking to each other excitedly, and I miss the friends I never had. Then I see an old couple holding hands, which are both struck with Parkinson's disease. I look at them, and my heart aches. That would never be my parents. Maybe they would find other people, but that wasn't the same. Maybe they were happy, but it wouldn't be the same.
You might think that since I come from a family of divorce, that I'm scared of love, or just don't believe in it, or soul mates and everything. It's almost funny, in a sense, how many people in my families have gotten divorced. My father was married twice; to some woman before my mother. He had a child with his first wife, but the baby died of SIDS, and that destroyed their marriage. I've never met the woman. Her name was, like, Sarah or something. It always made me feel bad for my dad, really. Even though he's not exactly there for me, or 'emotionally fulfilling', but he's still my dad, and I love him. And going through divorce twice must be pretty horrible. You know, marrying one person, really thinking you're going to spend your life with this person. And then it's just over. If you multiply that by two, then what do you feel? It's also strange, thinking my father had another life before he married my mother. It's so strange… that we weren't his only family.
My dad's brother, Bill, has been divorced three times, and is working on his fourth now. He has six children. Two of them have a baby, and neither of them is married. You could say their dad scared them out of marriage. My dad's sister, Alicia got knocked up with my cousin Elliot when she was eighteen, and never married Elliot's father. She did get married to my uncle Thomas, the music producer. He's probably my favorite non-related relative, besides my Aunt Sherri. But he's nice, and a brilliant pianist. It helps too, since he can get me new albums and concert tickets like that. She has two children with him. Elliot is the only cousin on my dad's side of the family that is married.
On my mom's side of the family, she and my aunt Angie are the divorced children. Aunt Angie has three kids, one of who is married. My uncle has been married to Sherri for thirty years. They have two kids, and their oldest daughter is married with two kids. She's only twenty-seven, and I think she's a bit of a medical marvel. She's a thirty-eight year old woman in a twenty-seven year-old girl's body. Really, I feel bad for her. Who wants to be twenty-seven, with two kids you always have to look over, and you never go out? Most of my idols went out too much, and died at twenty-seven.
But the really notorious divorce of that family was that of my grandmother and my grandfather. It sort of weighs all the other successful marriages down.
In my mind, it's always strange to have grandparents that are divorced. You picture grandparents as the kind who have grown old together, who eat barbeque every Wednesday, who drive for recreational purposes, who visit family together. Who sit at the airport gate holding shaky hands. Instead, I had the kind that tried to outdo each other with birthday gifts, the kind who would criticize each other's cooking if they ever had to try it.
What I'll never forget is the look my grandfather had on his face at my grandmother's funeral. I guess I should have been paying attention to the service, or the eulogies given. But I couldn't help staring at him. The way he just stared at the ground, and how he didn't cry. In a way, albeit, I think he was the saddest person there. Even though he sure didn't ever show it- which I think justifies her filing for divorce in the first place- I could tell that he really did love her. I guess some people have a hard time showing it, or feeling it. I remember feeling something deep down inside me- this aching sympathy. How horrible it must be to know someone for so long and treat them like nothing, only to realize how much you really loved them when it's too late to show it?
It was that look in my grandfather's face that reassured me that love really exists. I was about ten when she died, and it was hard for me to register all of that. That love could be like that. But just because it's hard doesn't mean it isn't beautiful.
Maybe soul mates exist. If they do, that doesn't mean they'll be the one person who could really make you happy. I don't think love is supposed to come in a velvet box, engraved in a diamond ring. I don't think love is just dressed in white, and something blue. I don't believe that. I want to believe that sometime in my mother's life, my father's life- my grandfather, my uncle, my aunt Michelle's life- they felt some kind of passion that didn't lead to marriage. Sometimes the best part of your first love is that it didn't last. And although you don't feel that rush, or that passion you did for the first time, you can look back and remember what it feels like, and you can know that love really does exist.
What is so great about life is that you wake up one morning, and you have no idea what will have happened by the time you go to sleep the next night. You'll just wake up, yawn, wish you could go back to sleep. You get dressed, brush your teeth, mope around sleepily. Just like every morning. But then at the end of the day, you're dancing around or crying in broken pieces, or feverish with anger. Either way, it's so magical and mysterious that life works that way. The time you spend between sleeping could easily change your life, and you have no idea when you wake up.
Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if we could just understand how much potential certain events could have to change your life. I guess that would make life a lot easier, and it's not supposed to be easy. But it's so strange by how insignificant some moments or people can seem to be. You have no idea if the person you're sitting next to will be your best friend or first love or worst enemy. It's all so strange, and so mysterious, and so frustrating, but I guess that's what makes it so endearing.
As the plane takes off, it's easier for me to see my skyline. All the flickering lights and tall buildings and even the glamorous people I can't see. I look at it all and remember it all. And as I'm looking at it all, I'm saying goodbye. I say goodbye to the buildings and the beaches and the beautiful people and the heat and the smog- everything. I even say goodbye to Annabelle and Harper and Carys and Cole and Will and Mason. I think of the six of them and I say goodbye to them. I say goodbye to the pain that they've caused me, and everyone else. All the people that laughed at me or ignored me. I say goodbye to them all.
And then my city disappears underneath the clouds.
As I get off the plane and walk away from the gate, I see a woman in the distance waving her arm manically like you sometimes see people do. I roll my eyes and laugh inwardly at her, feeling sad for whoever she's waiting for. But the closer I get, the better I can see the woman, and then I have the horrible realization that the crazy woman is my mother. I slightly shake my head and blush, although I don't think anyone really cares. When I get up to her, she smiles widely. "Hey!" my mother chirps, throwing her arm around my neck and holding me close. "Oh, it's so great to have you here!" She rocks me, which is a little uncomfortable with me having no free arms or anything. But it's good to see her.
Something about her being here at eleven at night, so frazzled and tired, that makes me feel at home. I feel like a lot of the time we forget what our parents really do for us. I certainly wouldn't have come to the airport this late to greet her. Honestly, I don't think my father would have if I had been able to drive, to rent a taxi or something. This is one of the reasons why I came to live with her. Even if I didn't make it into Lakewood, I would still try to worm my way over to her.
She leads me to her car. We shove my bag into the backseat. After that, I squeeze myself into the front of the car, which is littered with fast food wrappers, crumpled up maps, and a couple broken Bob Dylan and Billie Holiday CD cases. "Sorry if it's a little messy in here," she says, smiling sheepishly. "Haven't, you know, had the time to… to care about cleaning it up. I'm sure you know exactly what that feels like." She looks at me knowingly. I roll my eyes at her and immediately kick my shoes off. My mother smiles at me. I always take off my shoes in the car- I don't know why.
While we drive, it's dark, and she listens to soft music, and I'm exhausted. My eyes open and close, and sometimes I have a hard time staying awake. But my head is too alert, too excited. There's no way I can sleep. I'm too busy, thinking of the strangeness of all of this. I'm in the entirely new place, and I'm going to know entirely new people. I'll live in another house- I'll sing in a new shower, sleep in a different bed, pee in a foreign toilet. It's funny, because I used to sit in my old room and my dad's house and just loathe myself, and my life. But it was normal. It was routine. And it wasn't fun or anything, but it wasn't like I had to throw myself out in the open, not knowing what to expect. I knew what to expect every day- be avoided, looked at like I have leprosy. My life was like a scratchy blanket- it itched me, and I wanted to throw it off, but it was warm.
I have no idea what to expect now. I live in Oregon for god sakes! I've lived in southern California my whole life. Just for proof, I have that life-lasting tan. But Oregon is rainy, and cold. It snows there. I've never seen snow before. Everyone thinks that since I've lived in California my whole life, we can just run up to the mountains. But I don't know. I guess it was never something we had time for. It seemed as if we ever planned on a skiing trip or just going to play in the snow, Conrad got sick, or Lukas had a big test to study for, or my dad had to go on a business trip. One time, when Mom and I were the only ones who weren't busy, she looked at me over the table and just said out of the blue, "Do you want to go to the mountains?"
We were sitting down at the kitchen table. She was doing a Sudoku, and I was finishing a sketch I had drawn. For a second, I almost wanted to. But then I shook my head and said, "Nah." Honestly, I really wish I had gone. I wish that I had gone and bundled up in heavy jackets and sweatpants and run around in snow. The thing is, though, it's not something I feel like I need to see. Besides, just going up to mountains for a couple of hours- driving to see it- makes it seem less special. I would want to see it when I woke up. I'd want to wake up, throw my curtains open and see a world of white. And it would be early in the morning, and the sun would be sending little sparkles all over the place. I would have woken up early because I just felt it; my room would've gone cold, but in some magical or pleasant way. That would be the best. But I live in California, not Ohio.
Suddenly, I'm so completely overwhelmed by the fact that this could all go wrong that I feel the need to scream. What if I've made a huge mistake? What if the people at Lakewood are ten times more talented, prettier, better than me? What if I make a total douche of myself? I should've stayed back at home. Because at least there my name is already synonymous for 'douchebag'.
Then, my mother reaches her hand over and takes mine. Just like that, I feel better.
Mom begins to slow down in front of a house, and pulls into the driveway. I've seen pictures of Mom's house. But I've never actually been to it. Even in the dark, I can recognize it.
It's a white, Georgian colonial house, with black windows, and a black roof. One of those old fashioned street lights stands next to the mail box. It's so neat, and pretty, and so much like… my mom.
She pulls into the garage, helps me with my bags, and leads me inside. "I know you're probably tired. I'll show you around tomorrow." Mom flicks the lights on, showing the kitchen. Yellow walls, black counter tops, white counters. There were pictures of my brothers and me hanging from the wall. There were abstract paintings that my dad had refused to put up in the old house and food posters, like one that said 'Chocolate Is the Food of the Soul'.
She leads me up the stairs and down the hall, opening the last door of the hall. Mom turns the lights on and sets my bags down. I stare around in awe. "Oh my goodness, Mom," I say. The room is painted my favorite shade of purple, which was labeled something like "Midmorning Violet" at a paint shop. All the furniture is black, and the blankets on my bed are white with black flowers. My posters, my clothes, and my record player it's all where I want it to be. And right in the middle of the room stands my cello.
I wrap my arms around her, and she holds me close. It feels so good to be here with her. I feel like I'm at the start of this great big adventure, and she's right there to guide me through it. She's the only person that could help me through this. Not my dad, not Lukas; only her.
When I let go, she gently runs a hand through my hair and smiles down on me. "I'm just so glad you like it. I just want… everything be perfect for you." Although she's never said anything, and I've never blamed anything on her, you can tell she always feels guilty for what happened to me at school. Just the way her face lost color, her eyes became stony, whenever the bullying was so much as referred to. I guess it's one of those mom things, where everything that happens in your life somehow happened because of her. Maybe it's because she's the one who made you grow, and that it's her fault that she didn't make it so that you were prettier, or smarter, or just cooler. I feel horrible because of all of this, because not only is it causing pain for me, it's causing pain for her. And if it's anyone's fault, it's mine.
I could've made a choice to not let my epilepsy get in the way of making friends, of making people like me. But I let it happen. I remember why I even let it happen.
In fifth grade, there was a boy who came later in the year- was really overweight. He sat next to me, but I never paid much attention to him. He was the inward kind. The only real time I noticed him was at recess. I was climbing on top of the monkey bars. I sat down on the edge and looked around the playground. Suddenly, I spotted the boy alone on the foursquare court. No one was playing there. For a second, I felt a little bad for him. But then I decided it was his fault that he didn't have anyone to talk to- he never talked to anyone else. Then a group of boys came, and I could just tell they were teasing him. They put their arms out to resemble rolls of fat, and waddled around the boy. He began to cry then. I didn't do anything, except watch.
Another boy walked past. I thought that he and the overweight boy were friends, and I guess the fat boy did too. He looked up at the boy, tears running over his puffy cheeks, and said something I couldn't hear. The other boy looked at the bullies, who were still waddling around, and he laughed.
Just seeing that made me wonder. Maybe I wasn't fat, like that boy. But I was different like him. We were anomalies- freaks. He was roly-poly fat, I was the one whose brain went haywire like a computer that just had soda dumped all over it. Maybe we could have been best, socially-shunned best friends. We could have been Bert and Ernie, except Bert needs a Weight Watchers account and Ernie gets his learner's permit terminated for medical reasons (I was still pissed about that).
That whole realization scared me, but I didn't really begin to understand the boy until later that year, when I ironically had an epileptic fit in class. It scared away all my friends, all my classmates. It even scared away the fat boy; one day I tried to sit with him at lunch, and he told me, "I can't eat with a weirdo." The betrayal of the anomalies. I understood why he kept to himself. I didn't want to lose my friends like I had in fifth grade. Even if that meant going through middle school, high school without friends. It took me a while to realize why no one stood up for me when I was bullied. I hadn't stood up for that boy when he was bullied. Who am I to expect something I can't give? And you can tell me that I was just a child, and that I still don't deserve what I've gotten, but age doesn't really matter- everyone knows right from wrong.